2014 Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars
It is time to continue our run through the 32 teams in the league, giving fans five reasons to be confident, and five reasons to be concerned regarding the upcoming season. We’re going in the same order as May’s NFL Draft, which leads us to our third team: The Jacksonville Jaguars.
In 2013 the Jaguars came into the season with a new head coach and general manager combination of Gus Bradley and David Caldwell. With arguably the least talented roster in football expectations were certainly low, but the energy the duo brought to the franchise coupled with a competitive second half of the season sees this team aiming higher and higher.
That said, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Jaguars fans are all too aware that this project is going to require more time and effort but the ultimate rewards are to even be considered. That means expectations are somewhat tempered, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons to be excited.
Five Reasons To Be Confident
1. Lumps Taken
In the 2013 draft the Jaguars invested heavily in the defensive backfield, using five of their eight picks on these positions.The first of these players was safety John Cyprien who was picked 33rd overall. Over the course of the season Cyprien’s grade (-17.0) makes it seem like he was in way over his head but the reality is that after a tough start he started to find his feet as the year went on. Indeed by the end of the season we were starting to see a player who actually impressing, as evidenced by his +3.7 over the last six weeks of the season. If he can continue improving, the Jaguars might have found a player who will be the cornerstone of their secondary for years to come.
2. One Man’s Trash
The starting defensive line in 2013 was a major issue of the Jaguars and none more so than against the run where none of their early downs players recorded a positive grade for their efforts. In free agency the Jaguars made one of the more obvious moves and snapped up the recently released Red Bryant, a player who represents a perfect fit in Bradley’s defensive scheme and does an excellent job of holding the point of attack up as a five-technique end. In 2013 Bryant had an 8.4 Run Stop Percentage with 21 stops on 25 tackles, which compares favorably to man he’ll be knocking down the depth chart (Tyson Alualu) who had a 5.4 Run Stop %. Not content there they’ve taken another Seattle discard and this one promises to bring with him some extra pass rush. That man is of course Chris Clemons. It’s unfair to judge him solely on his 2013 season where he was clearly working his way back from the 2013 playoff ACL tear, but he did show as the season went on that he was getting back to the kind of form that had him ranked in the top 12 of our 4-3 defensive rankings between 2010 and 2012. His Super Bowl effort (+6.9) was a real showcase of what he can still do and more of the same will make the whole team better.
3. Young Wide Receiver Group
Before the draft this was just a group of a whole lot of questions. Now it’s at least got some long term answers. Heading out of 2013 and into the 2014 draft the team were reliant on Cecil Shorts as the go to guy. That’s not a role he’s look suited to so far in his career, because as likely as he is to make a big play, he’ll leave his share of bad tape on the field as evidenced by the 13.16 Drop Rate he posted in 2013. That’s primarily because the team hasn’t been able to coax a decent attitude out of Justin Blackmon who looks unlikely to see an NFL field any time soon. But that situation spurred them on to attack the position in the draft, picking up Marqise Lee from USC and Allen Robinson from Penn State. Both men figure to get their share of action and with low expectations on the unit, they’ll have room to make mistakes and grow without their playing time seriously called into question. Being able to polish these two guys up for a year bodes well for Blake Bortles when he sees the field, having more seasoned weapons at his disposal.
4. Cornerback Play
Let’s be honest, 12 months ago this unit was something of a joke. Alan Ball wasn’t exactly highly regarded after stints in Houston and Dallas where he seemed to fit the mould of not quite a cornerback and not quite a safety. As for Will Blackmon he’d bounced around the league and was best known for his earlier work as a returner, and Dwayne Gratz? Well what happened the last time the team started a rookie third round corner? Derek Cox and a -13.6 coverage grade is what happened. But the front office found the right talent for the coaches to work with and it wasn’t long before the team reaped the rewards. Ball posted a team best +7.9 coverage grade, Gratz looked the part when healthy as he himself managed a useful +3.0 overall grade. Even Blackmon got in on the mix with the kind of play that would see him return to the team with enough talent and versatility to assist whatever was asked of him. A win-loss record can often dictate how much praise a unit gets, so you can blame that for why this part of the Jaguars team really hasn’t got the credit it deserved for how quickly it has turned around.
5. Plan in Process
It’s been mentioned in other places but it really can’t be stressed enough. This is a team for the future. They’re young, they’re hungry and they’re loaded with the kind of talent that if developed right will undo years of bad management. The fact that they have a new owner who the fans have embraced and a support base that has bought into the long term vision means that while wins are always important, they needn’t risk tomorrow fighting today. You need only look at how Pete Carroll and John Schneider revamped a Seattle Seahawks team going nowhere fast to know what that kind of attitude can do for a team, and how quickly it can help them turn things around.
Five Reasons To Be Concerned
1. Offensive Line Woes Continue
It’s fair to say the most established player on the offensive line is Zane Beadles. And in all due respect to Beadles, he’s proven that he’s a long way from being the kind of top tier stud that can kick start a running game or shut down a pass rusher. Given that he’s the bright spot what does it say about the rest of the line? A line that is riddled with questions. Take the center spot for example where the team are left with Mike Brewster starting after a failed pursuit of Alex Mack. In 2012 Brewster played in both guard spots on 556 snaps and produced the second worst grade of any guard and while he did look better in 2013, it’s hard to tell what could have been with a bigger sample size of snaps. Given the different challenges that playing center presents, just how will he cope? With rookie Brandon Linder expected to start, Luke Joeckel moving back to left tackle and Austin Pasztor trying to build on his 2013 season you’d expect this line to be in for a season of taking their lumps. Something that won’t help their quarterback.
2. Chad Henne
With the plan to sit Blake Bortles it means the Jaguars are once again leaning on the arm of Chad Henne. The teams insistence that Bortles will not playing in 2014 seems the only thing keeping Henne in a job after a season where his only saving grace was he looked nowhere near as bad as the now departed Blaine Gabbert. As the QB in Focus series showed, Henne struggled when there was no pressure (-13.2), finishing lowest of all quarterbacks and it’s that erratic nature of his play that threatens to hold this team back more than anything. Come the end of the year he may have started every game and the team may be better for it in the long term as Bortles remains protected, but it doesn’t bode well for their win loss record.
3. Leader or Liability?
If players were paid on their box score statistics then Shad Khan would need extra deep pockets to keep up with Paul Poluszny, the man who led all linebackers with 145 tackles. Heck, he also finished third in our Run Stop % signature stat with a 14.2 score. But that score doesn’t negate all the times he was slow over the top of a run or failed to get off a block, all of which contributed to a -7.7 overall grade. That’s not terrible but for a defensive leader should you expect more? Or do you accept a little bit less when the ball is snapped because of what he brings to the team before it is? Posluszny is not a poor player but he is limited, and having a limited building block will always cause you problems.
4. Defensive Line Rotation
If you want to build what Seattle have then you’re going to need depth on the defensive line. As much as they’ve tried to do this, the team just hasn’t been able to, with money spent to guys like Ziggy Hood who have spent their NFL careers underwhelming. Even the money paid to Sen’Derrick Marks seemed to smack of a team desperate to keep hold of what little talent they did, overpaying a talented but supremely inconsistent individual who has yet to really put together a season to wow. They should be better than they were in 2013 but then they were so far off the pace that just being better isn’t really enough. Here’s hoping they can get more out of Hood then the Steelers could, with his career grade so far of -101.8 being that of a man who has got his playing time based on his draft slot rather than his own performance.
5. Lack of Depth
The Jaguars’ depth chart shows the second team has 14 players who are either rookies or who we don’t have enough information, and then another 11 either below average starters or poor starters. In the long run this is most definitely a good thing for getting guys playing time and allowing them to develop. But in the short term it means we’d be foolish to expect a big jump from a team who you’d expect to be drafting in the top 10 again come May next year.
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